The Maine Principals’ Association’s unveiling of the five-class proposal for high school basketball didn’t exactly send shock waves throughout the sports world. But the news has spurred discussion about the possible ripple effect if a new system is implmented.

Other sports are wondering if they could be next in line for an additional class. While they expected changes might be coming, athletic conferences have questions about how reclassification will impact their schools, schedules and playoff eligibility.

Some of those questions could be answered in the coming weeks. The proposal is still a work in progress. The MPA classification committee, which spent a year-and-a-half drafting the five-class plan, will be getting feedback from the MPA’s basketball and interscholastic management committees as well as its member schools before submitting it to the organization’s full membership for approval in late March/early April.

If the five-class system is implemented, it would go into effect starting in 2015. Other sports will be watching closely next winter to see how it works, on and off the court.

“I wouldn’t be shocked if other sports look at basketball to see how things shake out,” said Winslow High School principal Chad Bell, a member of the MPA’s Softball Committee.


The desire for a fifth class in basketball centers on declining student enrollment throughout Maine and the growing population imbalance between the southern and northern parts of the state. Those issues have widened enrollment gaps within classes and altered the competitive balance on the floor.

It has also swollen the ranks in some regions in basketball, most notably Eastern Class D, to the point where officials are concerned about the integrity of the current tournament structure. If the number of teams in Eastern D goes above 24 (it is at 23 this season), a second preliminary round would have to be added to the tournament.

High school football’s rapid growth prompted the MPA to add a fourth class in 2013. The classification committee believed basketball, with 142 of the MPA’s 152 member schools offering the sport, needed to be addressed next.

But issues of competitive and regional balance are not limited to basketball.

The closest sport to basketball in terms of size and structure is soccer, which had 130 teams participating last fall and uses the same enrollment cutoff figures as basketball to determine classification.

“If you look across the board at some of the concerns they’ve raised in basketball, we’re seeing something similar (in soccer),” said Waterville assistant principal Brian Laramee, a member of the MPA’s Soccer Committee.

Members and former members of several sports committees interviewed for this story said discussions of adding a class in their sport have been strictly informal to this point. But virtually all agreed that changes are likely.

“As an organization, we really need to take a look at what levels playing fields for everybody,” Bell said. “The bigger schools are still getting bigger and the smaller schools are getting smaller.”

The MPA reviews classification every two years, so other sports would have to wait until the 2017-18 academic year to expand. The organization did not give formal consideration to adding classes in anything other than basketball for the upcoming two-year cycle, MPA executive director Dick Durost said, but “that doesn’t mean two, four or six years from now that conversation couldn’t be expanded,” he said.

While other sports will have to wait for change, the state’s athletic conferenes have already sprung into action. The Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference has formed an ad hoc committee to explore the impact of a five-class system, and athletic directors from the member schools are scheduled to meet over the holiday break to review and discuss the proposal.

Lewiston athletic director Jason Fuller, who makes the basketball schedule for the KVAC’s Class A teams, said the conference has anticipated the addition of a fifth class for some time.

“Everyone is concerned about what is going to happen to the league structure in the KVAC,” Fuller said. “We’ve talked about it a lot the last couple of years. This does push it up the agenda.”


Currently, the KVAC is split into two divisions, one with the conference’s 13 Class A schools, one with the conference’s remaining Class B and C schools (all are Class B except Maranacook). Each of those divisions play their entire schedule within the division.

If a fifth class is implemented as currently proposed, those 29 teams would be divided among three classes, with four in the “Super A” class — which consists of the largest schools in the state — 18 in 2A and seven in 3A.

The Mountain Valley Conference has 14 members. All but one, Oak Hill, are currently in Class C. Under the proposed restructuring, Oak Hill, Mountain Valley and Lisbon would be designated 3A. The remaining 11 schools would all be 4A.

“It still keeps us in two classes, which we are in right now,” said Madison athletic director Chris LeBlanc, vice president of the MVC. “It doesn’t have as big of an impact on Mountain Valley Conference schools as it has on the KVAC.”

The MVC and KVAC consider themselves “closed” conferences, meaning their members only schedule other conference members during the regular season. A new format could force the largest KVAC schools to look outside the conference for regular season games.

“It’s definitely going to increase the conversation amongst the leagues in terms of schedule-making,” Fuller said.

Schools would have to reevaluate one of the key components of schedule-making — the Heal point value of their opponents.

“The only way you’re going to be able to play whoever without it impacting the Heals is to go back to that open tournament,” LeBlanc said.

A return to the open tournament, which the MPA briefly implemented around the turn of this century, has not been discussed, Durost said, nor has a change in the 2/3 rule, which stipulates that the top 2/3 teams in the Heal point standings from each region make the tournament.

A more likely change could take place in the Heal point differential, Durost said.

Teams are reluctant to schedule opponents from lower classes because they are not worth as many Heal points in the preliminary index. Currently, a the Heal point differential from one class to the next is five points, meaning a Class A team is worth 40 points, a Class B team 35 points, Class C 30 points and Class D 25 points.

For several years, athletic directors have discussed reducing that differential for various reasons, such as reducing travel expenses and developing rivalries between neighboring schools. A five-class system could put a reduction on the front burner for the MPA.

“I think there may be another look at whether that number of five may be increased or decreased,” Durost said.

Some leagues, such as the Penobscot Valley and Western Maine conferences, already have to schedule teams across three classes.

Even if a five-class system doesn’t spark other changes, conference officials said they will find a way to keep their games competitive without putting their teams at a disadvantage in the rankings.

In the meantime, everyone is anxious to know what the final proposal will look like.

“We’ve got to talk about it,” LeBlanc said. “But it’s in its infancy, so it’s hard to predict what it’s going to be six months from now or three months from now.”

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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